Some Basic photography tips for newbies
Recently I went through my image library in Lightroom and pulled out a few images that I thought could do with a re-edit. That’s the problem when you learn new tricks in post-processing, it makes you redo older photos that didn’t get the benefit of your new-found knowledge. At least Adobe Lightroom makes it really easy to go back and find your old photos especially if you have been a good boy/girl by tagging and rating your photos as you imported them. And if you have employed a non-destructive Photoshop workflow such as the one I suggested in a previous blog post, then re-editing your old images shouldn’t be such a time-consuming process with Adobe Photoshop for Mac.
The image above is one such image that I picked because I had since learned more about how to process HDR and also how to bring out a whole heap of detail as you can see in the foreground. I also chose this image to re-process because, in my opinion, it has a few strengths that make it a good candidate.
No image can be saved by a technique such as HDR or post-processing tricks if it isn’t a good image, to begin with. It all starts with the photographer. Good exposure and composition are essential to an interesting photo. I chose to re-edit the above image because I believe that the composition is strong. It conforms to the ‘rule of thirds’ whereby the horizon line is positioned roughly one third from the top of the scene. Also, the subjects in the scene are positioned deliberately by this rule too. The prominent rock in the distance is positioned one third from the right and the rocks on the left are positioned one third from the left. Having said all this it’s fine to break the rules if it results in a good image. I broke a rule here by composing the prominent rock on the right breaking through the horizon line. This was a compromise because I wanted to get low to the ground.
Getting low to the ground can help vast landscape scenes such as this. By getting low to the ground the image benefits from having strong foreground detail such as these sharp rocks and the greenery on the right. This gives perspective and depth throughout the scene. This is especially true when using a wide-angle lens because distant objects can look so incredibly far away that it is often important to get foreground detail.
One more reason why I believe this image stands out were many others that I took fell down is because all of the foreground elements (the rocks) seem to direct the viewer’s eye towards the sun. The shape and slant of the rocks almost point to the sun. So while there is a vast scene that allows the viewer’s eye to wander, the shapes of the rocks suggest that they look at the sun. This sets up a relationship between the foreground and background elements of the image.
One of the main reasons why I like this image is because everything is in focus. In portrait photography, they teach us to narrow the viewer’s attention by using shallow depth of field. I believe that in landscape photography the opposite is true. If there is an interesting scene with foreground and background detail then the viewer should be allowed to scan over the whole image. One way to do this is to use a small aperture (high number) in order to deepen the depth of the field making more of the image in focus.
The above image was shot at f16, which in hindsight was probably pushing it. I got away with it because I used a hyperfocal technique. This is a good technique to employ because it means you don’t have to stop down quite so much, which will result in a sharper image. But even by stopping down it is sometimes difficult to get everything in focus. If I were to focus on the horizon (or what the lens and camera would think of as infinity) then even at f16 the foreground would not be sharp. Likewise, if I were to focus on the foreground at the same aperture then the background would not be sharp.
One way to make sure more of the scene is in focus is by using a hyperfocal technique. There is a hard and fast rule for depth of field known as the one-third rule. If you focus approximately one third into the scene then you will have a greater chance of all the subjects being within the depth of field. While this is a good principle to remember, like all hard and fast rules it won’t always work. It all has to do with the distances involved and the aperture that you use. I will be writing a blog about this soon but in the meantime, if you want to learn more about this then I would suggest heading over to Cambridge in Colour (they actually have a depth of field calculator). Or if you have an iPhone then ‘there is an app for that’ here.
Details – sharpness
So even though the entire scene was in focus I still thought that the image could do with more sharpness and detail. I used to use a technique that involved bringing out more local contrast by using the unsharp mask filter in Photoshop. I have also experimented a lot with the high pass filter in a previous blog post here. However more recently I have tried out a new trick that I learned from watching some of Calvin Hollywood’s instructional videos. He calls it ‘freaky details’ and I love the effect it has. I have created a blog post and instructional video that explains how to create the effect of the freaky detail.
Lastly, I used HDR or (High Dynamic Range) in order to bring out detail in the whole scene. I will be the guest speaker at my local camera group in a week and thought that I would show this image as an example of how powerful HDR really is. This image was made up of 7 different exposures spaced 2EV’s apart. Simply put it would be impossible to expose for a scene with this great a dynamic range in a single photo without compromising. If you exposed to the sun then the foreground would be black. If you exposed to the foreground then the sky would be overexposed. If you set the camera on auto then the meter would make a compromise and the whole image would look flat. By using HDR you don’t compromise because by combining the various exposures there is enough light to illuminate the foreground detail without blowing out the highlights in the bright areas.
These four tips really help make a difference, especially in landscape photography. They don’t have to be used in conjunction. In fact, I wouldn’t suggest using HDR it’s appropriate or it gives you the look that you’re going for. I showed this image to a landscape photographer recently and suggested that it would benefit from a slight vignette.
While I respect everyone’s opinion and welcome constructive criticism, I disagree. If you look at the image you can see that I have taken every opportunity to allow the viewer to look around the photo. I have deliberately not pushed the viewer in this way or that way because I want them to scan around the picture. The addition of even the subtlest of vignettes would focus the viewer’s attention towards the center of the scene. This would weaken the image because all of the subjects are arranged around the center, not in it. Furthermore, all the subjects have a high amount of detail and are not meant to be glossed over but rather looked at individually. I’d like to know what do you think?